TIME SQUARE DISCOUNT
The sixth studio album from Dearly Beloved
Available everywhere October 25th
More on Time Square Discount:
The erosion of the immigrant dream. The genius of Stanley Kubrick. The entrenched evil of the global banking establishment. Suspicious mountains and high-desert military bases. Sinister Ukrainian crime bosses and the irradiated ruins of Chernobyl. The Dublin Occult Grid. Nazi human experiments. Robert Bigelow. A baby sparrow named Bruce Lee. A professional pachinko player from Tokyo named Al who communicates only in catchphrases culled from Al Pacino films. Scott Walker, Suicide and P.J. Harvey. Unfamiliar mania.
Don’t ask me exactly how extended consideration of all these disparate concepts and characters and influences played into Dearly Beloved’s rippin’ new LP, Times Square Discount, but I have it on good authority from the band’s long-established creative braintrust of vocalist/bass god Rob Higgins and vocalist/percussionist/Theremin abuser Niva Chow that each of these subjects – and numerous others far less and far more arcane – were indeed up for consideration during its creation. And while I suspect generous application of weed, weed and more weed might have aided in their overall, eventual intellectual synthesis into a form usable within the context of a badass 21st-century rock ‘n’ roll album such as this one, I’m really only here to provide talking points. You should, thus, ask Dearly Beloved about any and all of the above points yourself. They will, I’m sure, be more than happy to talk about them.
See, Dearly Beloved loves a good rabbit hole. And when you log as many touring miles in cramped, fetid vans – roughly 200,000 across 26 countries at last count – traveling to and from as many neglected pockets of the planet as Dearly Beloved does, you’ve got ample time to dive as deep as you want into those rabbit holes. So that’s exactly what the tirelessly hard-working Toronto combo did in preparation (perhaps unconscious preparation at first, granted, because Dearly Beloved tends not to operate much “by design,” but preparation nonetheless) for its sixth smashing long-player in 13 years.
Times Square Discount is, as Higgins puts it, “a rabbit-hole record,” and one partially borne of “bingeing on Kubrick and drugs” and ruminating upon such fancies as “How do we make Kubrick an album?” and “How do you make an album version of The Shining?” in the van long enough for it to set in that the band’s thirst for weird and/or forbidden knowledge and collective capacity for conducting on-site empirical research could be put to far better use in each of the cities that it visits than simply, y’know, bingeing on Kubrick and drugs in a van.
As the unintentionally cohesive result of two-and-a-half years’ worth of hither-and-thither sessions conducted between tour dates and day jobs and real life in all its warringly wonderful and woeful forms, however, this bruising slab of stoned-but-technically-superior, sorta-punk/sorta-metal misanthropy also betrays itself in hindsight as a kind of delayed reaction on Dearly Beloved’s part to its experience attempting to make “a traditional rock record” last time out on 2016’s somewhat overlooked Admission with past Ramones/Misfits/Doughboys producer Daniel Rey “where we had 30 days, we’d never even met the producer, we did a week of pre-production, we lived together and we had, like, 10 days to track the record and 10 days to mix it and then he flew back to New York and that was the end of it.” That experience wasn’t unpleasant, by any means, and Dearly Beloved got to record part of the album at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 on the same Neve 8028 analog console that helped birth Nirvana’s Nevermind back in the day – as it did again with 606 house engineer John Lousteau for the bulk of what has become Times Square Discount – but it just wasn’t the way a band that, for instance, took almost a year to pull 2012’s “accidental” Hawk vs. Pigeon LP from eight hours’ worth of aimless, off-the-cuff sessions laid down on a whim in its other spiritual home, the “desert-rock” oasis beloved by kindred spirits from Kyuss to Queens of the Stone Age to Eagles of Death Metal to Fu Manchu known as Joshua Tree, California’s Rancho de la Luna.
“Daniel was awesome, but for us it was a radical thing to make a record traditionally. So with this record, we were just, like, ‘Fuck all that,’” says Higgins. “If there was any grand design, it was just to take control of ourselves and just slow down. Like, the way Kubrick made films, man – they would have teams go out and do short research missions about shit, live places for months. Gather shit, learn shit. When you’re playing shows, you have all this time off, so it was, like, ‘Well, we could just get loaded all the time or we could research everything and go see it.’ We would be on tour in the Ukraine or in Arizona, going down every rabbit hole associated with said place and then researching the living shit out of it and taking notes, and those things became lyrics and the basis for songs.
“They’re all kind of references to characters and people and conversations and things and moments and rabbit holes, so it’s got this very dystopian, almost WWII, Operation Paper Clip filter that we put on the whole fucking narrative that’s hard to get away from. But the more you make yourself aware of these days, the more disturbing it all is. So there’s a certain mania that comes with processing this much information. And now you’re being manipulated by it.”
Above and beyond this loose conceptual framework, however, came the liberty of recording here and there at Studio 606, Rancho de la Luna or Dearly Beloved’s home studio on Phoebe Street in Toronto whenever the mood struck. And never for more than four days at a time.
“So we got to play, try different things,” adds Chow. “No producers, no fucking pressure. We’ve always done it on our own, but this time we had so many options and avenues to do stuff. So it was kinda fun to, y’know, step back and tour a lot and come back and kinda rejig.”
Ironically, the freedom of once again being left completely to its own devices has, on Times Square Discount, yielded some of the most pop-savvy material yet to appear in the Dearly Beloved canon. “Vacation” and “LSD” have an undeniably slinky, stick-in-your-head seductiveness about them, “Close Encounters” and “Dog Food Thumbs” a decidedly sing-song quality lurking amidst the battery. Meanwhile, opener “Race to the Bottom” – inspired by Higgins and Chow’s shared experiences working in their first-generation immigrant grandparents’ small businesses as teenagers and the realization that such a from-the-ground-up fresh start is all but denied to any newcomer landing in modern-day Toronto – is an anthemic salute to “the mom-and-pop shops and the grandparents, parents, kids, aunts, uncles and family friends that ran and run them, peddling all manner of product from birthday cards and ice cream and deodorant to music, magazines and books to shoes and gum and whatever the hell else it took and takes even if it meant or means moving units for the tobacco man and the lottery man just to have a life!”
Some of Dearly Beloved’s newly honed pop smarts might be traceable to Higgins’s recent gig toiling on and off again as a songwriter-for-hire in Los Angeles, a position that has drawn such friends and collaborators as Dimitri Coats of Burning Brides and OFF!, James Di Salvio of Bran Van 3000, M83 conscript Jordan Lawlor and engineer-turned-keyboardist Tyler Beans into the DB fold alongside drummer Aaron Morrice on Times Square Discount. As Higgins notes, “there are, like, 18 guests on this record, people we met along the way.” Including, on the diced-up electro-sprawl “Superhero” that concludes the second side of Times Square Discount’s deep dive into an increasingly elusive and experimental rabbit hole of its own, guest MC Maia, a five-person choir from Woodland Hills and Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard Cohen.
“It’s kind of hard to get away from that, in a way, because I’ve spent two years in L.A. writing songs for other people.”So it’s fuckin’ with my shit, there’s no question,” says Higgins. “I’ve never spent two years writing, in a different context, while making a Dearly Beloved record.”
Tentative dalliances with “evolution” and “maturity” aside, nothing’s about to change in the feet-on-ground, rubber-to-the-road sense of Dearly Beloved’s existence anytime soon. The band will continue to tour at a masochistic pace, vows Higgins, “because we have to, in some kind of fucked-up way.”
“We’ve been heads-down for a decade. We haven’t really come up for air and gone ‘What are we doing?’” he laughs. “We’ve just kinda gone from one ill-advised choice to another.”